Monday, April 26, 2021

Child sexual abuse in Tibetan 'monasteries and the psychological harm done to children in "The Tulku System in Tibetan Buddhism by Ramin Etesami"


A Tulku in most cases is considered as some person with high potentials of realization who needs training based on the monastic curriculum. Recognizing a child as a Tulku thus is usually accompanied by separating a child from his family and putting him in a monastery. This practice has dramatic effects on the life of the children. From the modern perspective, not only is such an experience psychologically traumatic, it also puts the children at risk of abuse. Beating, insult and bullying are reported by children who lived in such monasteries. Ruben Derksen, a Western Tulku from the Netherlands, explicitly talks about the dark side of the monastery life.221 Official reports regarding sexual abuse of children in monasteries are not as frequent as the cases in the Catholic Church, yet like any instance of sexual abuse, under-reporting of such incidences is a high possibility. As a result, what we witness is the tip of an iceberg. Van Schaik talks about a kind of homosexual symbiotic relationship in which a senior monk protects his drombo (a passive sexual partner) in return for sex. 222 The so-called “punk monks” used to be notorious for using young boys as drompo

The most high-profile case of child abuse in Buddhist monasteries is probably the case of the Second Kalu Rinpoche. In 2012, the Second Kalu Rinpoche, a young monk, posted a video on Youtube, in which he disclosed the details of his sexual abuse by senior monks while he was in a monastery. 

He tells how his own tutor attacked him with a knife. Exposure to abuse is not the only adverse effect of sending children to monasteries. It is a kind of deciding the fate of the child who is put in a monastery.

 Thanks to contact between Tibetans and Westerners, today, secular education such as mathematics is included in the curriculum of most schools affiliated to major monasteries. 

However, the observations by the author revealed that this education, usually, neither match the one provided to children outside monasteries, nor is it sufficient to allow the child monks run a secular life if they decide to leave the monastic life someday. 

Higher education is a luxury, and while some progressive monasteries started to fund talented monks (and nuns) to receive university degrees, the consequence was “disastrous” from the view point of the monastery officials. 

In one instance, the Thrangu monastery sent a dozens of monks to receive higher education in various fields, including Tibetan medicine. However, only a few monks (one or two) stayed in the monastery after they graduated. 

Such observations indicate a sizeable number of the monks who are sent to monasteries during their childhood, probably would leave the monastic life, if they find the opportunity,despite the stigma associated with disrobing in Tibetan society. 

Based on a raw estimation, the selection of monks for more advanced education seems to be based on their relationship with families of Tulkus or senior lamas, although statistical analysis is required to confirm this observation. 

The practice of recruiting child monks is not always condoned by progressive lamas. However, according to the author’s informants, the number of monks in a monastery is a matter of prestige and therefore high lamas are put under pressure by their attendants and aides to recruit more and more children. 

Anyway, the experience of separation from parents is traumatic in most cases even for high Tulkus like the Karmapa

Gesar Makpo, a Tulku and the son of Chogyam Trungpa, says how his British mother finally gave him up and sent him to the Shechen Monastery for training. Despite the presence of his “kind teacher” Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, he could not tolerate the separation and returned back home.

Ösel Hita Torres,the Spanish Tulku of Lama Thubten Yeshe, told El Mundo in 2009 that "When I was 14 month, I had already been recognized and taken to India. I was dressed in a yellow hat, and put on a throne, people worshiped me ... they took me from my family and put me in a medieval situation in which I suffered a lot. It was like living a lie.”

To put it technically, Crazy Wisdom is another name for the antinomianism which has always been associated with Buddhism as a reaction to “Indian legalism” since the emergence of Mahāyāna. 

In a shamanistic culture like Tibetan society, pathological mental signs might be viewed as a sign of spiritual power.

In Chapter 6, examples of buying Tulku-hood in return for patronage were cited and it was seemingly viewed as normal political behavior in Tibet.

Having various “consorts” might be a norm in Tibet and those lamas who first encountered Western culture expected to be treated as usual. They might view this as an honor but reality in a humanistic egalitarian society is completely different. In many instances of improper behavior by Tulkus and high lamas in the West, one usually faces an enabling environment created by a group of students who compete for closeness to a teacher. The Dalai Lama tells Noriyuki Ueda that as a high lama, he is in a position to exploit other people. 237 What he refers to is in fact the structure of Tibetan Buddhism and more importantly, an enabling environment created by people who over-cherish their teachers. The author once saw a picture of the 16th Karmapa in which his body is translucent. While this phenomenon is a normal physical one happening when the photograph is taken in low light with a moving subject, Tenzin Namgyal, an aide to the 16th Karmapa, describes it as a miracle: I have seen the picture. If one has faith and devotion in the Karmapa, then seeing this picture will really increase one’s conviction in him. The photograph was taken while he was in meditative shunyata – then his body became translucent and you can see through it.238 Such claims which are rooted in a lack of knowledge about scientific facts are surprisingly circulated by well-educated Western devotees too. 

...committing crimes with impunity as once was common in Tibet for Tulkus; and worse than that, covering-up the wrongdoings of teachers to project an image of infallibility for Tulkus, will only destroy the future of Buddhism, in general and Tibetan Buddhism in particular. 

Bitter rivalry, power struggle, violence and conspiracy among various factions affiliated to Tulkus indicate that the system has failed to produce compassion in its pragmatic sense too.

One of the biggest deceptions propagated by apologists about Tibetan Buddhism is statements such as “Our wisdom is not enough to judge the misbehavior of gurus;” “We should not see fault in the guru;” or “Guru is a perfect Buddha. 



The Tulku System in Tibetan Buddhism by Ramin Etesami

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